Many workers in the lucrative care home industry have for years been denied the minimum hourly rate (currently £7.50) for ‘sleep-in’ nightshifts, instead being fobbed off with a flat rate to cover the whole night. In theory the government is committed to enforcing payment of the minimum wage in this sector. In practice, however, the government keeps putting off the day of reckoning, using the excuse that enforcing the law threatens the ‘stability’ of the social care industry. On 26 July the government warned that “the cumulative financial liability of penalties and arrears of wages could pose significant challenges to the social care sector. In extreme circumstances, providers may be unable to meet their obligations to repay their workers”. Claiming that the “stability of the social care sector is a key government priority”, the government announced that it would “waive the financial penalties faced by employers who are found to have underpaid their workers for ‘sleep-in’ shifts… to apply to any arrears of pay resulting from ‘sleep-in’ shifts that took place before today” (‘Enforcement of the National Minimum Wage in the social care sector’, Department for Business, 26 July 2017). And then on 28 September the government announced that the waiver would be extended for a further month, until the mess over back pay could be sorted out (‘Government extends suspension of minimum wage enforcement in the social care sector’, Gov UK, 28 September 2017).
If privately-run care homes are truly unable to pay their employees the legal rate for fear of pushing down company profits or going bust, thereby destabilising care-home provision nationwide, the obvious solution would be to nationalise care-home provision, removing it entirely from the vagaries of the market and making it stable and democratically accountable. However, such a solution, whilst meeting social need, would at a stroke remove a very lucrative source of profits. The whole basis on which the care-home racket is presently constituted relies upon poorly trained cheap labour and extortionate fees, and woe betide any government that messes with it.
Meanwhile job seekers turning up five minutes late for interview at the local Job Centre need not fear any similar delays in the enforcement of benefit sanctions against them, however ‘destabilising’ this might be for their ability to stay warm and fed.